Drinking water lead contamination flows on
By Paul Harvey, doctoral student, Macquarie University, Sydney NSW Australia
When you wake up in the morning and prepare your breakfast, what do you do? Do you flush your taps for three minutes to remove the water that has been sitting in your pipes overnight? Do you run your water through a filter? Despite advice from NSW Health, chances are you don’t do either of these two things. But, I hear you ask, what is the point of flushing your taps? Did you know that your taps and household plumbing can be contributing lead and other contaminants to your drinking water? Oh, you didn’t? Don’t worry, you’re not alone!
New research published this month in the Journal of Environmental Research by researchers, Paul Harvey, Dr Heather Handley and Prof Mark Taylor from Macquarie University show that household taps, fittings and fixtures are contributing to elevated lead concentrations in drinking water ‘at the kitchen tap’.
“The results of this study demonstrate that along with other potential sources of contamination in households, plumbing products that contain up to 2.84 per cent of detectable lead are contributing to contamination of household drinking water,” said lead author Paul Harvey.
The study that examined the first draw water samples from approximately 200 first draw water samples from across the regional NSW area found that 51% of samples contained a detection of lead.
“Lead was particularly notable, with 8% of samples containing above the Australian Drinking Water Guideline concentration of lead in water (10 µg/L),” says Harvey.
But to some, the problem of lead corrosion in plumbing systems is not news. Work conducted by Gulson and others in urban environments has shown that these contaminants appear regularly in the water.
So what can be done about it? The advice to flush taps for periods of time was examined in the study. It was noted that in those tests, the concentrations of lead in water did not always decrease. Recent work by Katner et al. (2016) comments on the ‘myth’ that has been propagated globally from health departments to industry that flushing your taps will help to remove contaminants. It is now understood that flushing is not a suitable fix to the problem.
Where do we head from hear? The only real solution to removing lead from drinking water is to first remove lead from the (brass) fittings and fixtures that provide potable water in the home. This is a regulatory level response that will directly prevent manufacturers from including lead in the manufacturing process. In addition to this, regulations should be implemented to prevent the use of lead in any infrastructure used, or potentially used, in the drinking water catchment (e.g. a roof).
The study demonstrates that lead is still a pervasive problem in Australian drinking water and one which requires remedy to mitigate this preventable exposure pathway.
HARVEY, P. J., HANDLEY, H. K. & TAYLOR, M. P. 2016. Widespread copper and lead contamination of household drinking water, New South Wales, Australia. Environmental Research, 151, 275-285.
KATNER, A., PIEPER, K. J., LAMBRINIDOU, Y., BROWN, K., HU, C.-Y., MIELKE, H. W. & EDWARDS, M. A. 2016. Weaknesses in Federal Drinking Water Regulations and Public Health Policies That Impede Lead Poisoning Prevention and Environmental Justice. Environmental Justice.